For nearly six years, the Dallas Stars gave everything they had for a shot at the playoffs. They played through varying levels of pain and poured buckets of blood, sweat and tears to achieve it. For nearly six years, fans cheered, jeered, hoped and cried for it. They finally made it back to the playoffs, and the players and fans couldn’t be happier. Now that it’s finally here, the right perspective needs to be maintained on what the Stars are expected to accomplish this post-season.
The Stars are returning to the NHL playoffs for the first time since 2008, and everyone associated with the team is riding high with excitement and hope ahead of the first-round matchup against the Anaheim Ducks. The playoff drought seemed to be a long, drawn-out tease for management, players and the fans alike. Each season, the playoffs seemed within reach, only to end in late-season heartbreak. Not this season.
Putting the Season’s Success in Perspective
As exhilarating as a return to the playoffs is, it is important to remember what is deemed a success for this season’s Stars. Before the season began, the Stars were not necessarily considered a playoff team. Yes, Jim Nill put together a new coaching staff and roster that could reach the playoffs, but that was what the Stars were in truth: a team that could make the playoffs, with an
emphasis on “could.”
The regular season provided several ups and downs that tested the Stars mentally and physically. Whether it was their first road winning streak that led to a sense of arrival and cohesiveness for the team, or battling back from a horrific losing streak in January, the Stars battled through it all. They faced injuries to crucial players, streaks and slumps from everyone in the lineup and they rose together after the scariest incident in the NHL this season.
A Big Step Toward a Bright Future
Through it all, they battled and earned their first trip to the post-season since their magical run to the Western Conference Finals six years ago. It is great to hope for another deep playoff run and even dream of hoisting the Stanley Cup, but it is also important to remember where this team stands in terms of growth and development.
One of the biggest challenges the Stars faced this season was inconsistency, which is to be expected for a team with so many new characteristics. Still, the Stars registered wins against 23 of the other 29 teams in the NHL, and they beat nine of the league’s top 10 teams this season. They finished one goal shy of being in the league’s top 10 in goals scored this season, and had one of the 10 best home records in the league. The Stars have two players ranked among the NHL’s top 10 in goals, points and shots, and their goaltender finished in the top 10 in wins, games played, saves, assists and shutouts.
This is still the first season under a new general manager, new coach and retooled roster. Any experience gained from these playoffs is a bonus. It’s possible that 13 players will be getting their first taste of the NHL post-season. Several members of the current roster played together in AHL playoffs with the Texas Stars, but the NHL is a different beast. Ten players, including core players such as Jamie Benn, Tyler Seguin and Brenden Dillon, are under the age of 25. They still have time to grow and develop, individually and as a team. Whether the Stars advance to the second round, are swept or are ousted in seven games, everything is a welcome surprise this season.
Simply put, the Stars are ahead of schedule, and their future will be better for it.
Seizing the Opportunity
This post-season provides a great stage for the Stars to showcase their speedy puck-possession style of play. Kari Lehtonen can finally get his first taste of a playoff series with the Stars. After playing in so many crucial games down the stretch of the past five seasons and experiencing the Olympics earlier this year, he will finally get a chance to lead the Stars in the post-season.
Benn was surrounded by world-class talent and leadership en route to a gold medal with Team Canada in the Olympics, and now he gets to put his experience to use as the leader of the Stars. Seguin’s production and past playoff experiences will be looked to as the Stars attempt to pull off the series upset. Many eyes will be on rookie Valeri Nichushkin to see how he handles the playoffs, and the defensive unit will face their toughest test of the season.
There are many things to look for in Dallas’ opening round matchup, and no matter what the result is, the Stars should look at what they have already accomplished this season as a tremendous success and a big step toward a bright future. A new star is rising in Dallas, and it is gladly welcomed ahead of schedule.